It’s been a crazy first couple of weeks of the season so far, but I’m really enjoying it.
I definitely have a different feeling about this team than some of our other recent teams. Any given game, I feel like we have a chance to win, and I kind of expect that if we play well, we will win. That’s kind of the mindset of the whole team. In previous years, that wasn’t necessarily the case. We believe in ourselves a lot more than we did in the past.
We’re building something here.
I’m happy the Jazz made the commitment to keep Alec Burks alongside me for at least four more years. It shows the team what the front office is thinking, and how much they believe in us. Alec is one of those guys who can put up points really, really fast, and he’s already shown his ability to get to the line. When he’s aggressive, he adds another dynamic to our team. It gives us another weapon that teams have to respect and gameplan against.
The truth is that we have a lot more weapons developing here. Teams are starting to take notice.
My relationship with Coach Snyder is really blossoming. I give a lot of credit to him for putting the time in to build that foundation. During the summer, while I was training in Chicago for Team USA, he flew in to have dinner with my wife and me. That was where we first got to know each other.
We didn’t really talk much about basketball. I think he understood that I was going through a lot. I’d just gotten married and signed the new contract, so my wife and I were happy just to talk about life and enjoy the meal. That effort he made set our relationship off on the right foot. Then as time passed, we had discussions about the upcoming year, our team, and how we wanted to play.
The relationship we’ve built allows him to lean on me as one of the leaders of the team. I can give him a sense of how our guys are feeling as well as what I’m seeing out on the court, both things that he can’t necessarily see directly.
We’ve kept the lines of communication open. The things that he’s done have been really good for the team, and very helpful to me individually. He’s able to break down film for me, show me what he needs me to do, and explain what options I have available to attack a given play.
I don’t want to set any expectations or make any predictions for the rest of the season, especially because of how young we are, and how quickly things can change for us because of our inexperience. All we can and should worry about is our next game. After that game, we’ll learn from it, and move on to the next one.
We had a difficult start to the season playing against some top caliber teams right out of the gate. Our first three games were just kind of eye-openers. We played really well in preseason, then got smashed the first few times out, which kind of brought us back down to reality. There’s still a lot of work for us to do.
But since those first few games, we’ve played well, and the potential is definitely there. For us to be successful, it has to be all five of us who are out on the court playing together. We’re not the type of team that can just sit and watch, and let people go one-on-one.
That’s a good lesson for us to learn early.
EXECUTION AND RESULTS
The game against the Cavs last week could serve as a watershed moment for us.
We executed really well from the beginning to the end of that game. For me, it was one of the most special nights of my career.
Naturally, you get up more for games when you’re going against the best players, especially at your position. You want to prove that you can compete with a guy like LeBron James.
I felt like I held my own for the most part, and I tried to make everything he wanted to do difficult. I also got a lot of help from my teammates in that regard. LeBron is not a guy that you can guard by yourself. It’s a team effort, and he still had 31 points.
But there were times when I had to defend him one-on-one, and I think I did a pretty good job. There was an inbounds play late in the game where he tried to take me one-on-one. Right before that, one of our assistant coaches had pulled me aside and said, “He’s going to come right at you.”
I remember thinking right at that moment, “This is it. This is what I’ve been working for. I need to have a big time stop.” I was able to do that.
When you get a stop like that, it’s almost the same type of feeling as when you hit a game-winner. It’s you versus him, one-on-one on that possession, and if you’re able to get a stop, it’s a victory in itself.
The other defensive play everybody has been asking me about was the chase-down block in the second quarter.
Again, I have to give credit to my teammate Alec Burks. He helped set it up perfectly. LeBron was one-on-one on the break with Alec. Alec went underneath him so LeBron couldn’t explode to the rim. He had to adjust to get around Alec. Anytime that happens, if you’re the trail defender, it’s easy. They’re putting so much effort into getting around the lead defender that they don’t expect you. I was able to read it the whole way.
I love making that play. It might be my favorite play out of any I do because it’s a complete momentum shift. A lot of times, it ends up with points on the other end, so it’s a four-point swing. And any time you get a chase-down block, especially at home, the crowd reacts, and you get a big burst of adrenaline.
THE SHOT HEARD ROUND THE WEB
I’ll admit: I was pretty sure we had the game sealed up well before it came down to the final shot.
Alec hit huge free throws to put us up by four with less than 20 seconds to go. Then LeBron hit that crazy corner three. Still, Alec went down and hit two more to put us up three with eight seconds to go. I kind of thought that we had the game won.
But then they called a tough foul on Derrick Favors, and all of a sudden, it goes from, “We’ve got this in the bag,” to LeBron hitting all three free throws.
Now, we have to make a play.
Once the play was drawn up, I started figuring out what I was going to do. I knew what Plan A was, but if something happened, I had other plans in place. By the time we inbounded the ball, I had a vision of what I wanted to do based on how they decided to guard things. If they switched on the top pick and roll, I knew I would have the quickness advantage.
The whole play was a great design. There was some misdirection at first. Trey came off me, then set a screen on Derrick’s man. Then Derrick set a screen on my man.They were scrambling from the get-go, and I think that’s why LeBron tripped. That kept them from being able to set up their defense, lock-in and make me go just completely one-on-one. Guys end up wondering, “What are we doing? Are we switching? Are we not?” By the time they figure it out, it’s too late.
As the play developed, I got the ball. LeBron kind of fell down, and once Tristan Thompson switched out on me, I already knew that I was going to try and go past him. If he was there at all, I was just going to go to the step back, like I’d done so many times in the summer. I threw it up. It felt really good off my fingertips, and it went in.
Then it was just pure exhilaration. The crowd went wild.
I don’t normally ever show emotion, but when that shot went in, I had to let out a scream. Everybody rushed me. It was pretty awesome.
My wife, Robyn, was at the game with her dad, so it was cool that my father-in-law was able to see it. Robyn was super excited. It’s amazing to get to experience these things with another person that’s truly happy for me.
That game was my first buzzer beating NBA game-winner, but I had felt that feeling before.
In 2008, at the Indiana High School Boys State Championship Game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, my team was down one point, inbounding from half court. The throw to the basket got deflected, and and there was a scramble for the ball. I was able to pick it up, and threw it in just before the buzzer. It was bedlam.
High school basketball in Indiana is everything, and it was for the title, so it might have been a little more important in terms of getting the win. After all, Wednesday was just a regular season game. Those two are definitely my top two moments. It was the same type of atmosphere and same type of emotion after the shot went in.
I have to give a shout out to our fans for the support they showed us in that game and throughout all of our games. They’ve been there for us when we needed it. It was evident throughout that night.
I remember a play in the fourth quarter, when we were kind of struggling and we needed a big time shot, Trevor hit his three at the end of the shot clock, and immediately, the fans were right back in it and we had life again. That’s why you love home-court advantage. When your team is struggling, if you can get a bucket or a defensive stop, there’s a momentum shift. Your fans can lift you up from there, and get you back into the game. They were really key for us in that win over Cleveland.
Hitting a shot like that definitely helps your confidence, and confidence is contagious. Anytime you have an experience like that, it really helps your team out for the future. Whether or not you’re the one shooting it, you’ve seen your team come through at the last second. Everybody is more confident, and has gained that much more trust in one another. After seeing me do it, if Alec or Trey is in a situation similar to mine, I think it helps them believe: ‘Okay, I can do this too.’
I’ve definitely noticed an all around difference in my game as a result of the work I put in this offseason. I can see and feel things on the court that are different. My ball handling has been a lot better, and I feel so much stronger. That was a big part being able to matchup up with LeBron.
He can’t bully me as much as he used to, and I’m able to stand my ground against him. That’s going to be huge against a lot of the bigger threes that I’ll be playing since I’ve been playing a little bit more small forward this year.
To see the work I’ve put in paying off like that, it makes me work even harder.
ONE LAST THING
Before wrapping this up, I did want to mention my last blog entry — “The Best in the Game” — and the reaction to it. What surprised me most was just how many people didn’t read the actual article, and didn’t even click on the link.
I know there was a period of time when the website went down, but it still seemed like people basically just read the teaser, and took that and ran with it. The volume of hate tweets I got was comical. And a lot of that was just people on Twitter. But there were even Twitter-verified reporters making comments where you could just tell they didn’t even read the article either.
I guess part of me thought more people would read it before responding to it. I’ve never been the type of person that would say something like that, so for people to just run with it and assume that’s what I was saying was kind of shocking. But it was also pretty funny.
— Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) October 14, 2014
I never got a response from LeBron about the “challenge,” but I’m pretty sure he knew about it. When the post went up, I got a text from a friend of mine who works in the Cavaliers front office.
“Did you really just call out LeBron one-on-one?” he asked.
That made me laugh. I texted back,“Did you really not read the article?”
Once he did, he texted back and said, “Oh yeah, I can see. I’ll tell LeBron what it really is so it doesn’t turn into a big deal.” So I think LeBron probably heard about it that way. I think he’s the type of person who would get all the information before responding, or saying anything anyway. He didn’t say anything about it when we played, but I think he knew it was all in good fun.
But if he ever does want to play, the challenge stands.
From those who did read it and understand, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Once you knew what I was talking about and were kind of “in” on the joke, it created a groundswell of support, which was cool.
Some of the League of Legends players who read it were really excited about it, and happy that their sport was put out there a little bit. They were very pleased to have me as a professional basketball player, speak about and write on what their world is like, and what I thought about it by drawing comparisons and things of that nature. It gave them some mainstream exposure.
I’ve definitely been issued some LOL challenges since the blog was posted and it’s been cool to have people say, “What’s your summoner name? Let’s play.” I’d love to answer some of those challenges, but unfortunately, we’re in the process of moving and my internet is super questionable right now, so I haven’t been able to play since I wrote the blog post.
It’s frustrating and it’s sort of killing me to not be able to. I basically have to just sit back and watch streams of the game for now. But I’m just biding my time until I can get back in there.